Saliva probably doesn’t rate high on your amazement meter. You’re more likely to notice its absence and the dry irritation that results.
But you might be more impressed with this unsung bodily fluid if you knew all the things it does. It’s definitely a multi-tasker, performing a number of jobs (including aiding in digestion) that not only keep your oral health on track, but your general well-being too. And there are even new testing methods where saliva may even tell us when you’re not doing so well.
Here are 3 more tasks your saliva is doing for your mouth right now that truly makes it amazing.
Cleansing. Your teeth’s chewing action shreds food so it’s easier to digest. But that also leaves behind tiny particles in your mouth. Bacteria feast on these particles (especially carbohydrates like sugar) and produce acid as a byproduct, which can increase your risk of tooth decay. Saliva serves as a kind of “rinse cycle” for your mouth, helping to wash a good bit of these errant particles down your throat and away from hungry bacteria.
Defense. Speaking of bacteria, your mouth is home to millions of them. While most are harmless or even beneficial, a fraction can harm your teeth and gums. Saliva is your first line of defense, emitting an antibody known as Immunoglobulin A that targets these bacteria. Saliva also produces an antibacterial substance called lyzozyme that prevents bacteria from growing.
Enamel Protection. Although it’s the strongest substance in the body, your teeth’s enamel can’t withstand the effects of mouth acid, the by-product of bacterial feeding and growth. Acid levels naturally rise after eating; but even this sudden rise can begin the process of demineralization where minerals in enamel dissolve. Saliva saves the day by first neutralizing the acid and restoring the mouth’s normal pH in about thirty minutes to an hour. It also helps restore minerals in enamel, a process called remineralization. It’s all in a day’s work for this remarkable fluid.
If you would like more information on the importance of saliva to oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Saliva: How it is used to Diagnose Disease.”
Let’s say you’re traveling to Italy to surprise your girlfriend, who is competing in an alpine ski race… and when you lower the scarf that’s covering your face, you reveal to the assembled paparazzi that one of your front teeth is missing. What will you do about this dental dilemma?
Sound far-fetched? It recently happened to one of the most recognized figures in sports — Tiger Woods. There’s still some uncertainty about exactly how this tooth was taken out: Was it a collision with a cameraman, as Woods’ agent reported… or did Woods already have some problems with the tooth, as others have speculated? We still don’t know for sure, but the big question is: What happens next?
Fortunately, contemporary dentistry offers several good solutions for the problem of missing teeth. Which one is best? It depends on each individual’s particular situation.
Let’s say that the visible part of the tooth (the crown) has been damaged by a dental trauma (such as a collision or a blow to the face), but the tooth still has healthy roots. In this case, it’s often possible to keep the roots and replace the tooth above the gum line with a crown restoration (also called a cap). Crowns are generally made to order in a dental lab, and are placed on a prepared tooth in a procedure that requires two office visits: one to prepare the tooth for restoration and to make a model of the mouth and the second to place the custom-manufactured crown and complete the restoration. However, in some cases, crowns can be made on special machinery right in the dental office, and placed during the same visit.
But what happens if the root isn’t viable — for example, if the tooth is deeply fractured, or completely knocked out and unable to be successfully re-implanted?
In that case, a dental implant is probably the best option for tooth replacement. An implant consists of a screw-like post of titanium metal that is inserted into the jawbone during a minor surgical procedure. Titanium has a unique property: It can fuse with living bone tissue, allowing it to act as a secure anchor for the replacement tooth system. The crown of the implant is similar to the one mentioned above, except that it’s made to attach to the titanium implant instead of the natural tooth.
Dental implants look, function and “feel” just like natural teeth — and with proper care, they can last a lifetime. Although they may be initially expensive, their quality and longevity makes them a good value over the long term. A less-costly alternative is traditional bridgework — but this method requires some dental work on the adjacent, healthy teeth; plus, it isn’t expected to last as long as an implant, and it may make the teeth more prone to problems down the road.
What will the acclaimed golfer do? No doubt Tiger’s dentist will help him make the right tooth-replacement decision.
If you have a gap in your grin — whatever the cause — contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation, and find out which tooth-replacement system is right for you. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implant Surgery” and “Crowns & Bridgework.”
Learning you’re pregnant can be a joyous moment. But it also means life is about to change as you focus on protecting you and your child from anything that endangers your health.
Because of these new concerns you might even hesitate about receiving dental care, especially involving anesthesia. But several medical organizations representing doctors, OB-GYN physicians and dentists wholeheartedly recommend continuing regular dental visits during pregnancy.
In fact, you should continue them because you’re pregnant: physical and hormonal changes during pregnancy could increase your risk of dental disease.
For, example, your consumption of carbohydrates (like sugar) could increase, which in turn increases your risk of tooth decay. You’ll also need to be more concerned about dental plaque, a thin bacterial film on your teeth that can cause disease. Hormonal changes during pregnancy may make you more sensitive to plaque, and thus more susceptible to disease — especially periodontal (gum) disease.
In fact, a specific form of gum disease called pregnancy gingivitis affects around 40% of expectant women at some point in their pregnancy. And if you already have gum disease, pregnancy could worsen it. Left untreated the disease could develop into more severe periodontitis, which may significantly damage your teeth’s support structures far below the gum line, leading to bone loss, which could result in the eventual loss of your teeth. Daily brushing and flossing, regular cleanings and checkups and, if your dentist prescribes it, antibacterial mouth rinses can help you stay ahead of it.
But what about other procedures while you’re pregnant? It may be best to wait on elective treatments for cosmetic purposes until after the baby is born. But some situations like deep tooth decay that could require a root canal treatment may become too serious to postpone.
Fortunately, several studies have shown it’s safe for pregnant women to undergo many dental procedures including tooth fillings or extractions. And receiving local anesthesia doesn’t appear to pose a danger either.
The important thing is to remain diligent with your own personal hygiene — brushing and flossing — and making other healthy choices like eating a nutritious diet. And be sure to let your dentist know about your pregnancy to help guide your dental treatment over the next few months.
Just like other parts of your physical body, teeth naturally wear as we get older. Just the effect from chewing during hundreds of thousands of meals in a lifetime can take its toll.
But there are some factors that can make tooth wear worse. By addressing them promptly should they arise, you can keep age-related tooth wear to a minimum.
Here are 3 areas to watch for to avoid excessive tooth wear.
Dental disease. Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease are most responsible for not only the loss of teeth but for compromising tooth health overall. But the good news is they’re largely preventable through proper oral hygiene practices to remove bacterial plaque, the main trigger for these diseases. Prompt treatment when they do occur can also minimize any damage and help your teeth and gums stay strong and healthy.
Your bite. Also known as occlusion, the bite refers to how the upper and lower teeth align with each other when you bite down. When they don’t align properly, regular chewing and biting can create abnormally high forces in the teeth and cause them to wear unevenly and more rapidly. Correcting the bite through orthodontic treatment won’t just improve your smile, it can improve bite function and decrease accelerated tooth wear.
Bruxism. This is a general term describing habits like teeth clenching and grinding in which the teeth forcefully contact each other beyond normal parameters. There are a number of causes for bruxism, but for adults it’s typically related to stress. Over time, bruxism can accelerate tooth wear and cause other problems like TMD. There are a number of ways to stop or at least reduce the effects of bruxism like relaxation techniques or a night guard worn during sleep that prevents the teeth from making forceful contact.
If you suspect you’re experiencing any of these factors, see us for a full examination. We’ll then be able to discuss your condition, the potential impact on tooth wear, and what we can do to protect your teeth.
If you would like more information on protecting your teeth as you age, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
When we refer to periodontal (gum) disease, we’re actually talking about a family of progressive, infectious diseases that attack the gums and other tissues attached to the teeth. Caused primarily by bacterial plaque left on tooth surfaces from inefficient oral hygiene, gum disease can ultimately lead to tooth loss.
There’s only one way to stop the infection and restore health to diseased tissues — remove all of the offending plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) possible from tooth and gum surfaces, including below the gum line at the roots. The basic tools for this task are specialized hand instruments called scalers or ultrasonic equipment that vibrates plaque loose. A series of cleaning sessions using these tools could stop the infection and promote healing if followed with a consistent, efficient daily hygiene habit.
There are times, however, when the infection has progressed so deeply below the gum line or into the tissues that it requires other procedures to remove the plaque and infected tissue. One such situation is the formation of an abscess within the gum tissues, a pus-filled sac that has developed in response to infection. After administering local anesthesia, the abscess must be treated to remove the cause and allow the infectious fluid to drain. The area is then thoroughly flushed with saline or an antibacterial solution.
The gum tissues are not completely attached to the tooth surface for a small distance creating a space. These spaces are called periodontal pockets when they are inflamed and continue to deepen as the disease progresses. These inflamed and sometimes pus-filled pockets form when tissues damaged by the infection detach from the teeth. If the pockets are located near the gum line, it may be possible to clean out the infectious material using scaling techniques. If, however, they’re located four or more millimeters below the gum line a technique known as root planing may be needed, where plaque and calculus are shaved or “planed” from the root surface. As the disease progresses and the pockets deepen, it may also be necessary for surgical intervention to gain access to the tooth roots.
To stop gum disease and promote soft tissue healing, we should use any or all treatment tools at our disposal to reach even the most difficult places for removing plaque and calculus. The end result — a saved tooth — is well worth the effort.
If you would like more information on treating periodontal disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
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